After a volatile first day, the Michigan men’s golf team’s third round surge propelled it into the top three at the Royal Oaks Invitational in Texas with a plus-4 (1,069). Baylor’s home course advantage clearly showed, as it finished with an overwhelming 32-stroke lead over second place Houston.
Excellent final round play has been the cornerstone of the Wolverines’ fall season. With consecutive scores of 359 in the first two rounds, Michigan improved by eight strokes in the final round, closing with a 351 to jump up from seventh to third place.
In an untraditional 6-count-5 format, the Wolverines were challenged to both adjust to the course and play with an extra golfer. Under this pressure, Michigan shot an inconsistent opening round, as it reached as high as second, and as low as 10th, out of the 11 competing teams.
Unsurprisingly, Michigan’s top two golfers, sophomore Nick Carlson and junior Kyle Mueller, helped the team stay on course. Carlson contributed a 69 (-2) and Mueller led the pack with a 68 (-3).
Michigan coach Chris Whitten expressed his appreciation for the two players, highlighting their extremely consistent play throughout the fall.
“They’ve led our team in most of the events in each round. We can count on them,” Whitten said. “Their confidence has been the reason for (Carlson and Mueller) taking that step forward, and that is very important in this game.”
The Wolverines maintained consistent play through the second round, finishing with another 359 and a seventh-place position overall. Despite being toward the bottom of the pack, Michigan’s consistent final round success and manageable disadvantage left it within striking distance.
In characteristic fashion, the team finished strong. Led, once again, by Carlson (-3) and Mueller (-2), the Wolverines tied for the best overall third round (351) and finished just three strokes out of second place.
When asked about the final round performance, Carlson expressed his satisfaction with Michigan’s ability to rally, but also recognized the ample room for improvement.
“I think that we’re a go get ‘em kind of team,” Carlson said. “We realized that we could have played a lot better yesterday, and to put it all together today really shows who we are. We have the talent to be much better.”
This message was echoed by both Whitten and Mueller, who both lauded the team’s final round execution but expressed its desire to extend that quality of performance into the earlier rounds. In order for the team to reach their ultimate goals of qualifying for regionals and, eventually, the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines know their consistency must improve.
“The Big Ten Championship and NCAA regionals and nationals are our main focus,” Whitten said. “We have a team that is able to make it there if we play the way we are capable of playing.”
Looking forward, Michigan has the opportunity to use the winter to refine its game and focus on meeting its spring goals. With top-three finishes in four out of their five fall tournaments, the Wolverines are poised to exceed expectations and play their best golf.
“I think we’re a hungry team and always looking for a really good tournament,” Carlson said, “and we think next spring is our time.”